Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Retrospective Rationalising

Hmmm, there seems to be a new idiot zeitgeist surrounding the topic of rape at the moment, either to somehow build a straw man argument around abortion in the US or to defend Julian Assange in a bid to perpetuate what seems the most convoluted conspiracy theory I've heard in a while.

I'm not going to try and cover the facts of these recent cases as they have been covered expertly by countless others in far better posts.

I want to turn my attention to this phenomena of various people, predominantly men, trying to redefine rape. Why do they do this?

I'm hyper aware as a man myself I am potentially walking into a minefield here, but I think it is quite simple - no simply means no, before or during.

So why all these re-classifications by people? I think it is what I would call retrospective rationalising. What do I mean by this?

Put simply I am convinced many men in their past have been in a scenario that was either extremely borderline or was rape. This is probably quite hard for them to reconcile.

I think this is because of the fact that rape narratives for so long were of the violent stranger definition, therefore all other forms of non consensual sex don't or rather can't fit into the "legitimate rape" category because to do so would make countless men who do not consider themselves rapists to realise they have raped or nearly raped in their past, hence the post rationalisation we are seeing.

Bold and sweeping generalist statements I know, but let me explain my rationale.

I can already think of a handful of situations in my own formative years where I could have come quite close to crossing that boundary in a terrible mess of hormones, opportunity and drunkenness. I'm thankful I didn't but I do recognise the possibility of it amd that is scary. I think there are countless others who know this too, but won't admit it and won't recognise that it would be rape.

That's a sad indictment isn't it? That as men we have not had this conversation about where the boundaries are and what it means, recognising that our testosterone is a powerful driver that we have to control, particularly in adolescence or the discussion has been had and we didn't listen.

Thankfully I never had too much über testosterone flowing through my body and thus became deeply irritating in sexual encounters by asking multiple times for clarity on consent - if I could have had a contract I probably would have because in my brain it deeply concerned me about either being coercive or pushy in this arena as so many teenage men probably are.

I think I thought about it a lot because I had the unfortunate encounter of being in a public toilet and listening to a group of lads conspiring to gang rape my sister when she was 15. They didn't know I was her brother.
I don't think they realised they were conspiring to rape her either, just spike her drinks until she was unconscious later at a party and then all have "a go on her", they were deliberating which order they were going to do it when I intervened and pointed out I was her brother.

Sadly I have heard a number of similar discussions like this over the years, this I think is more common than most realise.

Too many men also think the predatory approach is all part of the game, there's an element to this approach that also starts to validate rape in their minds too.

I've been on the receiving end of predatory males persistence before, I've started politely to state that "I'm sorry, but I'm not gay" to still be lightly molested by grabbing and once having my exit blocked and locking of the door, I thought then I was going to be raped myself and that feeling of violation of your consent and your personal space is unforgettable. Sadly I think women have many more stories of incidents like this with men than I do.

So I think there are many things in the melting pot, there was a severe lack of discussion about rape being about non consensual sex and the different forms that takes and may still be. Too much emphasis on rape as a violent stranger assault narrative.

Not enough discussion or education with young men about respect and consent in sexual encounters.

So when I hear people re defining rape in the ways I've heard of late, I tend to think that they have a situation in their past which is consciously or subconsciously making them retrospectively rationalise the subject.

These are just thoughts and happy to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Just Little Snapshots.

Snapshots. That's what you remember. Little mental polaroids or flash frames of what happened. Hardwired into your memory but disconnected somehow from the bigger picture. Little jigsaw pieces that don't come together easily. A fractured mirror that distorts the reality somehow. Little fragments, shattered, exploded, sprayed.

6th July 2005. Have spent the day looking at and thinking about enhancements to our elearning packages with a Professor from Strathclyde University. We get on well and don't get to cover everything we want to discuss. Later that evening he calls me to ask if I can meet him at Euston before he makes the long commute home to Glasgow. Sure I think, what's a small diversion first thing in the morning, how can this have any impact on my day. I can accommodate it.

7th July 2005. I say goodbye to my mum and our new live-in nanny who has just arrived from Norway to look after our 2 year old son, she's nervous being in a new big city. It's okay as my mum is here to settle her in. I'm leaving a bit earlier than my wife who is going to a training event in central London, but we're travelling different ways. We would normally travel together on the Piccadilly line into Holborn, but today we've both been diverted to our different destinations because of fate.

I arrive at Euston station, the tube pulls into the platform. As I walk to the escalator, something seems wrong, people seem eager to get out because there has been a power surge and the escalators are not working, there are more tube workers milling around than usual. Little flashes of fluorescent jackets. Looking down at the non-moving escalator, the metal grooves in the steps. Quickly some trainers fill the frame and I look up to see two young men running fast down the escalator as if escaping something. I remember baseball caps on their heads, but nothing else. It was only peculiar because it was so out step with the rest of the atmosphere.

I'm out of Euston and meeting my Professor friend for coffee, this must be around 9am and we chat for some time about the project we are working on. Then more fluorescent jackets, this time ushering us out of the station. They look scared, this is not a drill I remember thinking, the power surge, the metal grooves - it all connects.

We step just outside Euston, but the barrier of fluorescent jackets pushes the crowd further and further out and as we step further out the volume of sirens increases, a cacophony of ambulance, police and fire. But they're not coming here. They're going somewhere else. Here is safe compared to where they are going, but the faces appended to the jackets are saying this may not be true for long.

My Professor colleague suggests we get to my office on some other form of transport, I see the wave of people heading to the buses. No chance I say, let's find another place to have coffee whilst this calms down and we cross the road to the Quakers meeting house. Lots of people get on buses as they move away from Euston.

Within seconds there is a loud crack, not a bang but a crack through the atmospherical noise. It's all out of vision but there is smoke or dust or something rising just above the buildings and trees. Then it starts, one by one the walking wounded or slightly injured are walking towards us.
A young lady violently shaking is the first to us, people crowd her to find out what is happening. I can see she is in shock and get a cup of tea, she needs sugar. I remember nothing of what she said as explanation, I just remember the pain in her eyes, the strained tears and having no idea what had just happened.

More walking wounded, more blood stained people, too many people coming to look at what had happened rather than helping, breathing, calming.

All phones were down, no chance of telling anyone or connecting with anyone as to what had happened, were my family okay, did they know I was okay?

Something told me to get to the office, make sure people were okay and it would be a better place to communicate from. Professor and I parted company, somehow we did not know the enormity of what was happening and this seemed rational. I headed off, to weave my way to work, not realising, not contemplating that what I was about to see would be etched on my brain for some time.

I rounded the corner into Tavistock Square. The front of the BMA building. Sprayed with matter. I thought it was moss, a dark red burnt moss. Lots of twisted metal and shards of things. Lots of bits. Bits of people. Bits and pieces scattered across the floor and on top of cars and sprayed up the walls. More fluorescent jackets, pushing back, pushing away...but too late...the image is there...the sight is there....the memory hangs there forever. I can not walk through that area with out those images being superimposed over the now tranquil scenery. Cannot do it. Even deep breaths can't help it.

Walking away, moving away, not sure where I'm going. Armies of us now, meandering like zombies looking for the mall. London confused. London scared.

Bang! The entire army drops to the ground, me too. My face on the cold concrete with small traces of weeds springing through the cracks. Is this it?

"Sorry" says the builder who just threw a lot of bricks into a skip from a great height. Relief at surreal moments. A momentary smile amongst the chaos. More walking.

Eventually got to the office and locked things down and ensured people were safe, but locked away those snapshots, those memories. Family were safe, we were safe. Relief.

But 52 people weren't, 52 people and countless more saw worse, experienced worse than I did. Just little snapshots that are polaroids on my mind.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Reflections, Pushing and #LawTechCampLondon

Wow. The energy during and the responses after #lawtechcamplondon have been amazing. It’s been fascinating looking at the memes and backchannels that have emanated from this event. I haven’t seen this from a legal event before, which is exactly the outcome we wanted back when the idea was being kicked around. I say we, I have been more of a passenger than an architect, but let me explain a little background to my involvement in the formation and give the real credit where credit is due because I felt guilty about those that came up to me on the day as if it were my brainchild and I definitely can’t take that credit, I helped get people there and interested, but let me explain....

Over a year ago I stumbled onto the concept of Law Without Walls that was being put together at University of Miami – as a learning technologist and techy geek working in legal education it piqued my interest and tied into many of the emergent theories I was exploring within my own organisation as seen here (whilst stats have changed, the message remains the same):

Did You Know? Legal Education from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

A quick Google search opened an e-mail exchange with Michelle Beardslee Stefano, the co-founder of Law Without Walls, and soon we were Skype chatting about law, learning and technology – along the lines (though less eloquently) of THAT VIDEO by her colleague Michael Bossone. It’s safe to say we found a kindred spirit in our passions for doing things differently and a desire to open the eyes of others, widen the choir and sing as hard as our lungs would allow.

Shortly thereafter I was introduced to Monica Goyal, founder of My Legal Briefcase in Canada, who had just started Law Tech Camp in Toronto and was keen to bring it to the UK, Michelle made the introductions and before we knew it we were Skyping and discussing how LawTechCampLondon could happen. We had very grandiose ideas to say the least and my overactive imagination threw around ideas for gamestorming, hackathons, cross collaboration between innovator hubs and legal communities, merge the worlds of start-ups, investors, legal innovators and students.

I recall a 2 day event across different locations that would have been an epic and killed all of us. It would have scared the hell out of many attendees possibly and been too much, too soon. Whilst Michael says PUSH, I say PULL and you can’t pull someone into your trajectory and get engagement unless you game it right, you have to level up following Czikszentmihalyi Theory of Flow

That said we had a connection and a passion for doing something different and were adamant it had to be unlike many of the staid legal conferences that were the norm in the UK and most importantly it had to be divergent in approach. Open up opportunity for individuals to pitch talks for the event, no exorbitant entrance fees and no exhibitor pitches. It had to ignite a fire.

The danger of being interested in so many things means you often overstretch yourself, I fall into this trap often. At the time I was working a 50hr week, doing a 3hr commute a day and studying an MA on top, I found the time I had to help pull together a law event was becoming difficult and fitting in the necessary time for mapping out was hard. At the same time Monica’s friends at Michigan State University – Dan Katz and Renee Knake Newman, were planning 21st Century Law Practice Summer School with University of Westminster and thus it became natural for the first LawTechCampLondon to take place as the summation of that course.

I took a backstep due to work commitments but involved my colleague David Allison with whom I had been discussing ideas for UK #tweetinglegals events. David stepped to the fore and became the driver from the College of Law end which enabled me to discuss with him and respond to ideas without the time pressure of Skype meetings. It was soon settled that we would focus on providing an ecosystem around the event, use our networks to spread the word locally and try to pull local speakers, encourage talk submissions and provide facilities for capturing the event on video. Ideally we would have live streamed the event as we have the capability to do so, unfortunately due to the timing of the event didn’t have the full resources available to commit on that day – but we’ll work on that for next time. We did discuss planting various people in the audience to go lo-tech and stream live from iPhones using Bambuser – just one of the many ideas that got lost in the big push to pull this off. The videos should be available in mid July and will be PUSHED out into the network accordingly. I will pull together a list of data and blogs etc already published soon.

So that was now and a great first step, but what next? The appetite feels right for another and I am sure from reading the tweets and blog posts, many of you have great ideas for a bigger and bolder second camp. Maybe there should be a discussion group online to discuss what would fit well in the next one, let’s crowdsource this even more. Any ideas on how best to do this, put them in the comments box below!

For me there are a few things I would like to explore more. We talk a lot about how technology is changing the law or legal services, let’s talk about how law should be affecting technology. Why do I say this? There are some very big issues on the horizon for ethics and justice relating to technology and we run the risk of the law not keeping up. We’re struggling in forming legislation correctly to align with IP, Privacy, identity and libel already. What happens when we have the "Internet of Things" and more importantly when technology and humanity start to converge, how are we going to legislate for post humanism?

I want us to explore changes in legal education to cater for this world and to actually cater to how we know brain chemistry works, I want to see better debate about learning for legal practice that takes into account new learning methods that both involve technology and innovative practices – spaced learning anyone? Situational simulated active learning anyone? Game based learning anyone? MOOCS anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

I want to see a legal hackathon that brings developers and lawyers together to work stuff out and hell why not bring some clients into the mix too! As Jon Busby suggested, do that and I’ll bring the pizza. Let’s mock things up and solve some problems, if kids are doing it so can you – think of the apps we could create with that new open data from National Archives for instance, but there’s so much more.
Let’s think better at what we could do with public legal education and tools that could engage the public more in justice at a time when public justice is under pressure, now is a great time to zig whilst others are zagging. Let’s not waste time lamenting what we are losing, let’s come up with some solutions. Build our future instead of accepting our fate.

Lastly I want to have a deeper debate about predictive algorithms and quants, it’s important that we do if we want to get it right for law. Economics will likely drive it to the logical conclusion, but we must ensure not to make some of the mistakes that other industries have done with predictive data. There was a stock market crash that still doesn’t know what went wrong with the algorithm. What would the legal equivalent be? Let’s look at informorphs or Weavrs, let’s look at how your social data may continue to live on beyond you with a life of it’s own, let’s look at what other industries are doing it too.

We are not a bubble, we are not a beautiful and unique snowflake – let’s widen the net and explore collaboratively, let’s embrace connectivism and continue the dialogue with lawtechcamp becoming to law what Burning Man was to Google. Innovation needs to be an agricultural process, let’s not debate which department is responsible for structuring it, let’s create an environment for it to grow.

Sir Ken Robinson - Death Valley from Jon Harman on Vimeo.

Have you connected with others? Are you widening the choir? Are you practicing your singing and picking up the mic ready to go on that stage that is Twitter, Linkedin, Skype et al? Prep your Pecha Kucha because I’m looking forward to next time.... Until then follow the #reinventlaw hashtag on Twitter and think about the network:

Network from Michael Rigley on Vimeo.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Dinner Guardians

I find social gatherings perplexing affairs, unless I know everybody there very closely. So to me, the concept of dinner party soirees are about as appealing as a week under the care of a US Rendition operation. Yet I still find myself being absconded to them against my will.

I think it is my aversion of small talk that has me sweating with anhedonia at the mere thought of "let's get together for dinner". It is the banal witterings of the chattering classes that makes me want to swallow my own tongue and die face first into the gazpacho soup.

"Did you read Lucy Mangan's article, this week?"

"No" I replied.

"Oh you should, she writes these great insightful......"

Don't patronise me with your Sixth Form bleatings about how you've just discovered the Guardian! I know what it is, I sometimes read it, often alongside books, you know those things that the Guardian reviews?

Jesus wept, I'd had about all I could take of The Guardian says this and The Guardian says that and ooohh isn't The Guardian just about the best social commentator since ...... It made me want to start reading The Daily Mail, just to counteract this turgid assault on my sensibilities. To bring some insurgency to the proceedings and neuter the vacuous automaton just RSS feeding me the entire contents of today's Guardian.

Am I over-reacting? Am I being over sensitive to the art of conversation?
I like to form my own conversation though and not just cut and paste a load of op-ed pieces from a newspaper and re-iterate them parrot fashion to appear interesting, because ultimately it's not.

I don't like people telling me what is fascinating and interesting as an absolute, because contrary to popular belief, it is a subjective viewpoint and I don't necessarily care about the things you care about. We're different. I don't bother you with fascinating aspects of serial killer profiling or Andrew Keen's notions on Web 2.0 or Cziksentmihalyi's theory of flow. They are likely to be only fascinating to me and not that interesting to you. See how that works?

Then comes that moment where some bright amoeba wants to play the most imaginative conversation piece game known to single cell organisms. Yep, the old "If you could have dinner with any 5 famous people, who would it be?" They then point out the exact ludicrous nature of this parlour game by quantifying that the selected "guests" can be alive or dead. I instantly imagine this in my mind's eye as a Jeffrey Dahmer dinner party. I often want to ask, "can it be the very same people I'm with, but they're dead instead of alive?"

I assume that this game is supposed to be insightful? To somehow psychoanalyse you and your character, a little slice of self analysis that is on a par with the kind of rubbish that Daisy Goodwin spouts.

The problem is ,and this is the fundamental issue I have. Even if it were possible, it would be a torturous evening because you are still you, you would be the most boring, inane and pointless person at the table. You would stand out a mile. Your slack jawed wonderment would put off the famous guests and you'd sit there drooling over just how special it is to be there. Dribbling like someone post electro-shock therapy and pre-enema mental patient. It's barely worth considering how depressing this situation would be, the table may as well be set with razor blades instead of dessert spoons because you are not going to make it to the final course. So who would I share this moment with, this ritualistic humiliation?

Hmmm, it would have to be this fella and I just pray he's brought the Kool-aid.

So I am destined to spend my time at these events looking on like a Guppy frozen in formaldehyde, only able to affect a slight nod of recognition to what is being said, whilst inside another piece of my soul dies and I wonder where my guardians are to protect me...

Thursday, April 5, 2012

To My Child

I had a few people question why I wrote my piece titled "Love and Marriage" given that I am not gay or particularly an "LGBT activist" - this I find bizarre, as if to say I have to be part of the group in order to stand up for what I consider a matter of civil liberties rather than an issue of sexuality. I've never been a prisoner or known a prisoner either but continue to support humane treatment of them and investigating miscarriages of justice.

But I thought about the question further and it did evoke a personal connection that I had forgotten about. My son has always loved to dance, he could dance well before he could speak, it was his first real form of expression. So naturally I wanted to encourage it and the only form of dance classes for his age at the time was tap and ballet. He went, loved it and excelled, I noted he was the only boy but didn't think too much about it until a mother started talking to me one day as we watched our children practise.

"My son would probably like this too, but my husband won't let him come"
I naively responded, "Oh why's that then?"
"You know, it might make him gay" I had to let those words bounce around a bit to see if they ever made sense IT - MIGHT - MAKE - HIM - GAY. Nope still no logical basis for the statement.
Sadly I didn't tackle this full on because I was in a bit of shock and took a while before I put the statement together with the assertion that this dancing lark would alter my child's sexuality in some way. Which was already a wrong thought process, ie it assumes my child is not gay in order for it's sexuality to be altered. See how subtle those seeds are planted. Anyway I digress. I firmly believe in the nature rather than nurture argument when it comes to LGBT issues, I don't believe activities make people gay, hence my reaction to this oxygen thief's assertion that dance classes would make my son gay.

Then I thought about how any of my children could be gay they just haven't reached an age of awareness yet. So in that role of protector parent, I want them to grow up in a world where being who they are or may be isn't a problem, that people wouldn't be there with their hateful undercurrents or passive aggressive attitudes. It is there all too prevalently you see, within two weeks some of the children had teased my son into not wanting to go to dance classes any more - the fuel had come from their parents. He still dances, but won't go to a class because of it. My kids have come home from school telling me how men can't love other men and ladies can't love other ladies, I correct this, but where is it coming from?

So this is a personal reason why I want to fight for better LGBT acceptance and rights, along with believing that all humans regardless of sexuality, gender, race, age, socio-economic background, religion etc deserve an equality of acceptance in society. Sadly we're along way from this utopia at the moment, whilst things have indeed got better in the mainstream and majority. We still have an underbelly of spite as was clearly surfaced last month when people decided to hijack the #tomyunbornchild hashtag meme that was trending on Twitter, a sweet meme where people sent tweets to their future children.

Sadly the same mentality that likes to hijack Facebook tribute pages came out in force in a hateful way as illustrated in this video where the tweets are realised by actors to show how disgusting these tweets were.

and captured here in a Storify timeline

Hopefully we can reverse this underbelly by confronting the hate and speaking back

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Love and Marriage

I'm sitting here listening to a debate on gay marriage and I'm confused. Not confused in that way that right wing conservatives or religious zealots think gay people are, but confused by the rationales that they put forward as the reason to prevent gay marriage.

Before I go on, it's important to point out I am a lapsed Catholic, why am I lapsed? Because I believe in a more spiritual and humanist approach to society than I believe the Catholic church does. I'm not a big fan of hypocrisy you see.

So the argument seemed to go that marriage is a religious sacrament based on male and female pro-creation and that to undo this was likely to be "damaging to the stability of society" according to Pope Benedict.

I have some problems with this argument, firstly I have been to a multitude of religious weddings, my own one included, and don't recall any of the vows or ceremony relating to the notion of pro-creation, no mention of providing or nurturing children at all. I've just sat here and watched my wedding video, nope, nada. There was a lot about commitment and love though, which I'm pretty sure is capable vows for gay people to take and be true to, just as much as heterosexual people.

Secondly, I have a problem with the far right religious groups who are so adamant to fight for the rights of a foetus, but seemingly won't once that foetus is discovered to be gay - that's right isn't it folks? I'm sensing some cognitive dissonance on this issue, or is it hypocrisy?

Lastly and most importantly I am aghast that Pope Benedict has the gall to be out campaigning about "damaging the stability of society" when he has been the chief of an organisational cover-up by the Catholic Church for decades that has destroyed lives and communities like a plague. Shame on you sir.

It cannot be spiritual or Christian to deny people who love each other the same rights we all take for granted and it is morally wrong for hypocritical zealots to campaign so vehemently against that right.

Here is a great breakdown of the rhetological fallacies of the argument.

Let your voice be heard in the consultation here - It only takes a few minutes.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Death of a Community

1992. The digits often spin in my mind because it was an important year in my life, a coming of age year so to speak. I had failed my GCSE’s in the summer, well I had excelled in the one’s I was interested in and failed the one’s I wasn’t – unfortunately I needed more passes though, so it was retakes in the autumn of 1992 and lots of spare time until A-levels in late 1993. As I’ve stated before I had all the makings of a wayward lost teenager in the remnants of Thatcher’s Britain, the wastelands of recession and depression were all around me. There was no evidence that doing the right thing, studying hard and conforming paid off for all the parents of friends who were being made redundant and losing their homes and sometimes families. Hope was a small flickering flame in a cold winter of adolescence.

Like a well worn cliché, I found myself immersing myself in music as an escape. Norwich was the focus for John Peel’s Sound City 92 project which brought an eclectic mix of bands to my hometown and brought prominence to the alternative club The Waterfront, opening up a pipeline of new music just right for teenagers like me; full of apathy, depression, existentialism and navel gazing. Forget Generation X, this was the birth of Generation Prozac. I used to joke about patenting a razor blade dispensing machine in Norwich and how it would make me a million. I was going to call it Vane.

Amidst this feeling of burnout in the culture at large and kids being depressed about the future, Grunge music was suddenly commercially successful and became the soundtrack of my surroundings, it had all of its’ obvious roots and connections to the punk movement of the late 70’s amidst a similar landscape, all youth culture thinks it’s original, but is merely a sequel. Inevitably I and some other friends with too much time on our hands and a need e for expression started a band, groomed on influences of Sonic Youth and other Sub Pop fodder.
I couldn’t play an instrument so was installed as the singer (I couldn’t sing either, but you didn’t need to – it was all about venting a noise and raw energy, which at the time I had in abundance).

This isn’t an autobiographical post about being a teenager in a band though. It’s merely background and/ or context for the story I want to tell. You see; in that autumn of getting together as a band in the drummer’s garage and trying to make music, events happened around us that had an effect on me that I have never forgotten. During the week we would write songs and at weekends we would get drunk at The Waterfront and stumble home because we couldn’t afford taxis. The venue was in the heart of an old warehouse district in Norwich that had become the red light district for prostitution.

On Wednesday 19th November 1992 sometime after 1:15am, Natalie Pearman, a 16 year old prostitute was picked up in this area by someone (1:15 was the last confirmed sighting of her). A lorry driver discovered her murdered body in a lay-by on the outskirts of Norwich just under 3hrs later, she had been suffocated. Initially the shock was that this had happened in our playground, our community where we stumbled around drunk. The other was that she was the same age as us. It was made worse that we loosely knew her, she had gone to school with our bass player and I had vague memories of seeing her hanging out as a 14 year old in the park, the social scene of early adolescence that anyone who has grown up in a small place knows only too well.

Natalie Pearman:

As scant facts emerged, it haunted me. Between 14 and 16 so much had gone wrong for Natalie and now this senseless end. It all swirled around in my head, gradually forming into words that became lyrics that became an angry song about this senseless killing and this loss of innocence. Nearly 20 years later the case is still unsolved, potential leads to serial killers Peter Tobin and Steve Wright have been explored and no conclusions yet. It remains a cold case.

1992 didn’t end there though. 2 months later another girl was murdered in the small market town of Watton just outside Norwich, this time it was 14 year old Johanna Young. It was the 23rd December, her skull had been fractured and her body dumped in a water filled pit in Wayland Woods (the origin of the famed Babes in the Woods fable). Another shockwave was sent through another community.
I was initially fascinated by the difference in the way Natalie and Johanna’s cases were covered by the press, Johanna’s murder was splashed across national newspapers and Natalie’s was a footnote, editorially Johanna was the death of innocence, Natalie the inevitable death from prostitution. Some thought the two murders may be connected, a serial killer in our midst. There was little in terms of modus operandi to connect the two though. Natalie’s seemed opportunistic, whereas Johanna’s seemed more accidental or local. Something had gone wrong and the killer was probably known to Johanna.

Johanna Young:

A few months later in early 1993 I had just passed my driving test and my father bought me a car with some conditions, I had to do door to door canvassing for leads for his double glazing company. The main place I had to canvass was Watton which was within his catchment area. I spent all spring in the area knocking on doors and frequenting the local shops. The tension in the community was palpable, a dark secret that everybody knew or thought they knew, the killer in their midst.
I heard many murmurings over that period which all lead to the same place over and over again, Johanna was likely murdered by one of her teenage friends. Just like Natalie at 14, Johanna’s community was in the car park of the local supermarket and the dark playgrounds of Watton where kids would hang out. Smoke, drink, do drugs and have casual sex, what else was there for teens who couldn’t drive to Norwich. Johanna’s murder, like Natalie’s remains unsolved to this day, nearly 20 years later. Watton has never recovered, a dark cloud hangs over it and there are still the rumours and the echo of what happened there.

As I had walked around knocking on doors, it had always reminded me of Twin Peaks, the famous surreal murder mystery from the same period. Everyone had a secret. That feeling has never left me and as I walk through my own small village in Norfolk and see teens in the car park or playground late at night, it all feels very cyclical and we turn an eye from youth culture in the sticks and the market towns.

My friend J A Mortram has been documenting aspects of this for a number of years in his Market Town photography series, the death of community, the loss of innocence and the despair that exists behind the chocolate box fiction of a rural setting. I am fascinated by his exposure of the hidden decay and the boredom that nobody admits in such a poetic and beautiful way.

Market Town Set:

J A and I worked together 20 years ago during the period I have just described, telephone canvassing in the evening for extra money whilst he was at Art School and I was re-taking my GCSE’s. We’ve recently made contact with each other; he grew up in and around Watton during this period too. As all of these things came together recently and at the realisation those 20 years has elapsed, we’re going to work together this year to re-visit and document Johanna’s case and the effect on the community, the death in and of a community. As yet we have not laid out the full lines of enquiry or format for constructing the narrative, but we are both fairly experimental and therefore expect a fairly mixed media approach.

Apologies for the rambling post, it is background and context for how I became aware and affected by this case, it’s important to recognise the loose connections to other factors and explore the underlying themes. It’s a wider story than a murder story and it still has as much resonance today as it did 20 years ago because essentially we are back in that dark place, the themes are around us again being regurgitated as much as a re-imagined film from Hollywood.
I’ll keep you posted on developments......